Tina Clinkenbeard would rather live in a car than go back on welfare.
But the part-time waitress is $247 behind on September’s rent and facing eviction from her north Spokane duplex.
So she knocked on the doors of a half-dozen churches and charities this week pleading for help.
Instead of cash she got resounding advice: Go to the welfare office and ask for public assistance.
The single mother of 13-year-old Jeremy reluctantly went and got an application. She couldn’t fill it out. She was crying too much.
“I was on welfare for 10 years,” she explained. “I was very heavy, unmotivated, a couch potato. … One day I just finally said I’m tired of this … and I got off. I got off! I can’t see myself going back in that position. I have good self-esteem now.”
Congress passed welfare reforms this week designed to wean people from the public dole. The plan calls for community generosity and charities to fill much of the welfare gap.
But Spokane’s community safety net is already breaking and often sending people back to the welfare line. To avoid getting duped by cons, many charities also prefer to deal with referrals from the state Department of Social and Health Services.
The result is this: Even poor people who don’t want public money often must apply for it to get any help.
“It is honestly a vicious circle,” said Dee Hopkins, a family services social worker for the state’s East Spokane office. “It’s a Catch-22.”
However, Hopkins said she can sometimes coordinate communitybased rent help for people who want to elude welfare.
People running Spokane charities say there isn’t any community money available to help pay anyone’s rent.
Pat Malone, director of Our Place, said his West Central charity ran dry on rent cash in August.
Malone said one of his goals is to keep people off welfare and “out of the system.” But he also called it delusional to think Spokane’s charities can help everyone who truly needs it, especially after more people are peeled off welfare. “That’s simply not going to happen.”
Scott Cooper, social services director of St. Vincent de Paul, said his church can’t afford to help people pay rent.
“If we do it for one person, we’re doing it for everyone. Then we don’t have money for food. The limits are the limits. I’d love to be able to do rent assistance.”
Clinkenbeard, 32, has been off welfare for three years.
She had a good, full-time waitress job and a nice home in Cheney a couple years ago. She could make $40 in tips on a good lunch day. Then she got sick with pneumonia and lost her job. It’s been hard ever since.
She was scared working graveyard at a gas station on Monroe Street, so she left that and found work at Chubby’s restaurant off the Newport Highway.
But she hasn’t been able to get enough working hours to cover her bills.
Sometimes she works just two hours a day at $4.90 an hour. The $4 she gets in tips on those shifts helps her buy her son a meal.
Linda McAlister, owner of Chubby’s, said she hopes to give Clinkenbeard more hours. She described her as a good waitress. “She’ll do anything and everything.”
Hopkins, of DSHS, suggested Clinkenbeard call her for help. Clinkenbeard got her telephone hooked up again Thursday morning - with some money from her grandmother. Then she called Hopkins.
Hopkins told her she would call around and see what she could do.
Clinkenbeard doesn’t know what’s going to happen. She just knows what she won’t do.
“I don’t care if we have to sleep in the car. I’m not going back on welfare.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo